Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Hogfather
by Terry Pratchett

Title: Hogfather
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13: 9780062276285
Publisher: Harper Fiction

As nonsensical as Pratchett’s Discworld books may seem, they often make a great deal of sense. Hogfather pokes fun at old gods, evolving gods, power, and belief systems. There’s even an “oh god,” as in “oh god I’m gonna be sick.”

The Hogfather is Discworld’s version of Santa Claus, and things go very, very far astray forcing Death to step in and try to put things right, while his granddaughter tries to behave like a normal person.

And I always enjoy reading Death trying to understand humans, and trying to behave as though he’s human when needed.  Usually with very confusing results for the humans he encounters.  Think Nightmare Before Christmas when Jack Skellington  tries to introduce Christmas joy to Halloween Town.

 

Review: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Epic of Gilgamesh
translated by N.K. Sandars

Title: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Author: Translated by N. K. Sandars
Published: 1972
ISBN-13: 978140441000
Publisher: Penguin Classics
I found SparkNotes helpful.

This is the grandmama of all written epic stories, the progenitor of familiar quest stories and tropes through the ages.  It’s also based on the historical Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh is 2/3 god, 1/3 human and has no equal.  As such, his arrogance and hubris get the better of him while he literally rapes and pillages his way through his own land, Uruk.

The gods create Enkidu from clay (completely mortal) as a balance to Gilgamesh’s excesses.  When they meet, they fight each other but once they discover they are equals, they become great friends.

Because Gilgamesh is restless, he and Enkidu go on a quest which includes stealing cedars from a forest forbidden to mortals.  After they kill the demon Humbaba, Ishtar tries to entice Gilgamesh into a love affair with her.  He flatly turns her down, which enrages her and she calls down the Bull of Heaven to kill him.

Enkidu dies from a protracted illness because the gods must punish one of them for killing the Bull of Heaven.  Gilgamesh is bereft and leaves Uruk in search of Utnapishtim, the man who survived the Great Deluge and was given eternal life.

In his travels to the end of the world and back, he finally accepts that life is not eternal, but the impact on those he comes in contact can be.

I first read Gilgamesh for a class about ethics towards animals (Enkidu was raised among the animals).  Reading it is the start of many familiar stories, like the Great Deluge, considered to be the genesis of the Flood story and Noah in the Bible.

For more about the genesis of myths which have become common knowledge around the world, read my review of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Review: The Truth

The Truth
The Truth
by Terry Pratchett

Title: The Truth
Author: Terry Pratchett
Published: 2000
ISBN-13:  9780380818198
Publisher: Harper Torch

William deWorde has a newsletter he sends to rich people who pay him to write about the gossip in Ankh-Morpork. The dwarves move in with a mechanical printer and make a deal with deWorde to publish more frequently. Soon, Ankh-Moorpark has two papers, one which publishes the truth as deWorde has been able to ferret out, and the truth people want to believe. DeWorde gets wind of a story which is politically dangerous, and find himself in danger.

It may be heresy to say, but I think Pratchett is funnier than Douglas Adams. And Pratchett’s silliness in my kind of silliness.  And while they’re silly,  Pratchett’s books are also social commentary. The Truth is about facts, truth, justice and what people want to believe is true. It also features mayhem, but then all of Terry Pratchett’s books feature mayhem of one sort or another.

Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
The Man in the High Castle
by Philip K. Dick

Title: The Man in the High Castle
Author: Philip K. Dick
Published: 1962
ISBN-10: 0141186674
Publisher: Penguin Books

To my wife Anne, without whose silence this book would never have been written.
Dedication

Japan and Germany have won World War II and have taken over the world.  Hitler is dying from syphilitic incapacitation in an insane asylum, while his henchmen maneuver for power.

The US, as we know it, has been divided into three regions:  the Eastern US controlled by the Nazis, Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (the Pacific states) controlled by Japan, and a buffer zone  called the Rocky Mountain States.

This should have been a gripping story, given the premise. But overall, I found the characters bland, and the dependence upon the I Ching an overused plot device.

Review: How We Got to Now

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
How We Got to Now
by Steven Johnson

Title:  How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World
Author: Steven Johnson
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9781594633935
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Twitter:  @StevenBJohnson

Steven Johnson picked six topics we take for granted in our modern-day lives and explores how these topics became so important.  For instance, he tells the story of standardized time by first telling the story of sea trade and railroads and multitudinous time zones until someone had the idea of synchronizing our clocks.  Which then led to even greater discoveries and implementations.

I’m a big James Burke fan.  My favorite episode of Connections was the one in which he explained how Jacquard weaving patterns led to Hollerith computer cards which led to modern computer programming.  I’m also a history nerd and love multi-disciplinary works like Johnson’s.

The topics are relevant and interesting.  Johnson’s writing style makes some the complexities easy to understand, and offers up intriguing anecdotes about how things like Clean came to be such a big deal.

One of the best things in this book is Johnson’s reminders that innovations don’t happen on their own.  Creativity builds on the work of others, often over many years of trial and error

The Six Topics are:
1. Glass
2. Cold
3. Sound
4. Clean
5. Time
6. Light

Review: Baby You’re a Rich Man

Baby You're a Rich Man by Stan Soocher
Baby You’re a Rich Man
by Stan Soocher

Title: Baby You’re a Rich Man: Suing the Beatles for Fun and Profit
Author: Stan Soocher
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 978-1-61168-380-5
Publisher: ForeEdge

This was a LibraryThing Advance Reading Copy, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

I was looking forward to learning more about behind the scenes Beatles.  Reading about the lawsuits against them, and the people who got rich from these suits seemed a fascinating way to go.  Not so much.

Stan Soocher’s deeply researched book does tell every single detail (or so it seems) of the convoluted legal world of The Beatles from their first manager, Brian Epstein, to their last, Allen Klein.  But after a while, it reads like a laundry list of industry moguls suing each other and The Beatles in a frenzy of mean-spirited greediness.  Some of the lawsuits seem to be filed out of spite.  Those are just the outsiders.  The suits between the members of the group are a reflection of their evolution from  young Liverpool lads to mature artists realizing that many of the events happening to them are neither what they expected, nor what they wanted as artists.

The most interesting part was the intertwined lawsuits against John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Not only was J. Edgar Hoover’s campaign to have Lennon expelled from the US for his vocal political views against the Viet Nam war, but Yoko’s ex-husband was playing games with custody of her daughter with him.  Lennon and Ono were caught in a Catch-22 of suits which hampered their ability to resolve anything.

The odious Allen Klein looms large for much of the book, finding new and distasteful ways to put more of The Beatles’ money into his own pocket.  It was almost a never-ending litany of fleecing his clients by law suit.

Soocher’s detailed writing tends to be dry.  Not quite completely boring, but not quite enthralling either.

 

Review: Sand

Sand by Hugh Howey

Title:   Sand
Author:  Hugh Howey
Twitter: HughHowey
Published: 2014
ISBN-13: : 978-1328767547
Publisher:  Mariner Books
Publisher’s Blurb:
The old world is buried. A new one has been forged atop the shifting dunes. Here in this land of howling wind and infernal sand, four siblings find themselves scattered and lost. Their father was a sand diver, one of the elite few who could travel deep beneath the desert floor and bring up the relics and scraps that keep their people alive. But their father is gone. And the world he left behind might be next.

“It was strange how tense one could become while surrounded by the banal.  It was the waiting, waiting.”  (p. 78)

Hugh Howey shot to the top of my favorite authors’ list with his Wool trilogy.  His dystopian world-building is solid, as are his characters and their relationships to each other, and their harsh living conditions.

In Sand, Colorado has been covered by … sand.  Familiar city names have become bastardized versions of themselves.  The biggest lost city was once Denver but is now Danver.  Danver is El Dorado.  Everyone’s heard the myth that lost treasure can be found in Danver; enough wealth to make life worthwhile, if not pleasant.  Pirates and sand divers from all over have searched for Danver to no avail.  Until one day …

The main protagonist, Palmer, is a highly skilled sand diver.  Able to go deeper than most others, his talents are well known.  He and a friend are hired by a group of brigands to dive and bring back proof that this location is the mythical Danver.

It is indeed.  And then everything goes wrong.  Because, the brigands don’t want the buried treasure, they want something more valuable and dangerous.  Power.

And thus we have another dystopian political thriller.  A good one, albeit a little light on the details of how Colorado became the sand covered danger that it has become.

Sand’s main protagonist is brother to three siblings, abandoned by their father who left for another not-so-mythical destination, No Man’s Land.  It’s supposed to be a better place where the rebels are gathering to join forces and devise a way to take Colorado back from the greedy forces in power.

And while that’s a common theme in political thrillers, Howey manages to give it a twist, and make it much more interesting.  I like his world-building a lot, and the quirks he gives his characters are really entertaining.

Sand is about more than survival, though.  It’s about community, family, and trust.  It’s about figuring out who we are and what matters.  And that’s what resonated for me.

Review: Artemis

Artemis
by
Andy Weir

Title:  Artemis
Author:  Andy Weir
Twitter:  AndyWeirAuthor
Published: 2017
ISBN-13: 9780553448122
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Publisher’s Blurb:
Jasmine Bashara never signed up to be a hero. She just wanted to get rich. 

“And like all good plans, it required a crazy Ukrainian guy.”  (p. 55)

This was a fun ride!  Jazz is a smuggler, moving illicit things around her home town of Artemis, a lunar based town of 2,000. It kinda pays the bills, if your idea of home is a coffin sized bunk and food is flavored algae. 

Like all good smugglers, Jazz dreams bigger.  Just one big job away from paying her debt and moving into a better compartment with better food.  But, she gets more than she bargained for when she agrees to do a little sabotage for a very wealthy patron.

At its heart, this is a caper novel.  Jazz has to enlist the help of her ex-boyfriend’s current partner, the crazy Ukrainian guy, and her devout father whose trade is welding at which, of course, Jazz has turned up her nose.

Aretmis is not The Martian.  Those expecting that have been disappointed.  And that’s unfair to Andy Weir.  I really like that he wrote a strong, female protagonist who lives off her wits and solves the puzzle of which political faction wants to destroy her home town, all the while saving it.

Jazz is quirky.  Her relationship with her devout Muslim father is strained, he heartily disapproves of the way she chooses to live.  The crazy Ukrainian guy is an inventor and has a predictable role to play in Jazz’s life.

The math and science aren’t as strong in Artemis, even still I got lost in the explanations why things worked the way they did in gravity 1/6th of Earth’s.  The story itself was fairly predictable.  And yet, I still enjoyed the twists and turns and Jazz’s predictable snarky bravado.

I wanted to go to space so much, still do, as a tourist.  Space programs fascinate me and getting to be a counselor at Space Camp in Mountain View was nearly heaven for me.  Andy Weir’s homage to the Apollo program put a big goofy smile on my face.

There’s a saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and I found myself wishing there had been more protagonists like Jazz to read when I was a much, much younger bookworm.  Not being able to go to space because I was a female had become so normalized for me that it took Jazz to realize it didn’t have to be.

My prayer for girls and young women is that they find female characters who show them they can be what they want.  As uneven and predictable as Artemis can be, it’s worth reading just for character development of a smart young woman named Jazz.

Review: Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law
by
Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones

Title: Moore’s Law
Author: Arnold Thackray, David Brock, and Rachel Jones
Published: 2015
ISBN-13: 9780465055647
Publisher: Basic Books
Publisher’s Blurb[The silicon transistors’] incredible proliferation has altered the course of human history as dramatically as any political or social revolution. At the heart of it all has been one quiet Californian: Gordon Moore.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

“Gordon was the opposite of a gregarious, people-pleasing middle-child:  instead, he was a boy with exceptional concentration and focus, oriented not toward words and emotional engagement, but toward practical results – with or without companions.”  (p. 44)

Full disclosure:  I usually make it a policy not to review books of people I know.  David Brock is a co-worker, and friend, which should instantly be grounds from even considering writing a review.  However, Gordon Moore has had such a tremendous impact on the computer industry, it seems unfair not to. His contributions need to be known, and Moore’s Law does a very good job of making them known, and understandable.

Further, I have been dilly-dallying over this review because Moore’s Law covers so much interesting history I’m not sure I can do right by it.

Not only is it the history of Moore, whose family arrived in California in 1847.  It’s also the history of computing, computers, and Silicon Valley.

Every decision in Gordon Moore’s life was based on the words “measure, analyze, decide.”  He kept notebooks detailing nearly everything; finances, business models, chemical analysis, semiconductor design, everything.   In this measurement and analysis, he figured out what came to be known as “Moore’s Law,” making computers faster and more powerful.  It’s led to things like the computer in our pockets we call smart phones.

That’s just part of a fascinating life inextricably connected to what’s become Silicon Valley.  There’s so much more in Moore’s Law about the lives of those pioneers and revolutionaries whose passion for chemistry, engineering, and physics brought about the devices which connect the universe in creative ways Galileo could only dream of.  Gordon Moore led the charge, quietly.  Not because he wanted to change the world, but because he was fascinated and saw ways to make money off the now ubiquitous micro-chip.

Thackray, Brock and Jones make the story of this complex man highly readable.  For those curious about the roots of modern computing, its effect on our lives, and the biography of the quiet revolutionary who led computers to this point, readers should read Moore’s Law and add it to their library.

Review: Beloved

Beloved
by
Toni Morrison

Title: Beloved
Author: Toni Morrison
Published: 1987
ISBN-13: 9780375402739
Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher’s Blurb: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a spellbinding and dazzlingly innovative portrait of a woman haunted by the past.
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

It’s often difficult to tell the difference between an over-hyped book and one deserving of my attention.  Thus it was between Beloved and I.  Until an essay in The Methods of Breaking Bad made me think I “should” read it.  The tipping point came over lunch with a friend who was absolutely shocked I hadn’t.  All righty then.

The opening line, “124 was spiteful,” sets the stage.  Who or what is 124 and why is s/he/it/they spiteful?  That sentence leads into the deeply moving, dark tale of not so distant slavery and being black in America.  Which story resonates today as we struggle with racism in modern times.

124 is haunted by the spirit of Sethe’s daughter who, we learn as the story moves on, was killed as an infant as protection by her mother from the slave runners.  This “ghost” symbolizes all the pain, anger, and suffering slaves endured at the hands of white owners.

But then, Beloved appears seemingly out of nowhere and is suspected to be the corporeal manifestation of Sethe’s daughter.  The chaos still exists, now represented by the physical embodiment of pain, anger, and suffering.

124’s inhabitants are the epitome of chaos as buried memories come to the surface.  How can anyone go on after suffering the horrific indignities of being a slave?  How can life go on?  How can anything approach something approximating “normal?”

Beloved explores these questions.  And faces harsh realities.  Being black in America will never afford the right of equality and the privilege of agency.  Never.

My favorite quote is from a scene that Paul D describes while a slave at Sweet Home.  He describes to Sethe what it was like to have his eyes opened by Schoolteacher, who taught everyone on the plantation until Mister broke up the lessons.  Mister gets to be Mister no matter what, because he’s white.  “Schoolteacher changed me.  I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”  Paul D realizes now his value was less than the chicken who was about to become dinner.  Schoolteacher exposed him to that understanding, which both binds Paul D tighter and frees him.

Cleveland in 1863 just as well be Ferguson 2014 or Philadelphia 2018.  Anyone who thinks this is not the way of the world hasn’t been paying attention.

Beloved is complex.  And I join the chorus which insists this is a book which should be read by everyone.  Repeatedly.

See my list of books which help me understand being black in America.